Although Barcelona was named by travel site TripAdvisor as the pickpocketing capital of the world, Madrid is not far behind.
Now the city has followed Palma de Mallorca's lead by banning some thieves from streets and squares in the city centre.
Four women, who form the notorious ‘Clan de las Bosnias’, will no longer be able to set foot in the capital’s Plaza Mayor, Cibeles square, Paseo del Prado, Carrera San Jerónimo, Calle Bailén and Calle Mayor.
The thieving quartet made a name for themselves in Barcelona, where they are reported to have mugged thousands of naïve tourists and metro users.
Even though they have been caught red-handed by police, they made sure their stolen goods didn't amount to more than €400, the difference between a minor theft offence and a punishable felony according to Spanish law.
That allowed them to walk free on countless occasions, a legal loophole which most other pickpocketing gangs in Spain have also used in their favour.
But greed has worked against them for once and, having been apprehended for stealing the wallet of a tourist which contained €700, a Madrid judge has imposed a restraining order on the four thieves.
These measures are usually used in gender violence cases,” Víctor Moreno Catena, law professor at Madrid Carlos III University, told Spanish daily El País.
“The interpretation of the law is so vast that its legality falls in the hand of the judge.”
Last year, the so-called ‘Bosnian clan’ were banned from setting foot in the city’s underground network but Madrid’s Provincial Court withdrew the ban as it considered it too disproportionate and because there wasn’t a specific victim to protect.
While the restraining order on the four women was in place, pickpocketing on Madrid Metro dropped by 40 percent.
“Something has to be done of course, it’s not right that people with more than 400 arrests carry on stealing,” Catena acknowledges.
“But we have to be very careful with measures that affect free movement.”
Here are five common pickpocketing methods to watch out for:
The ‘jam sandwich’: Members of the pickpocketing clan gather round their prey, usually in a confined space. For example, if the theft takes place on an escalator, the crooks standing in front of the victim will pretend something has fallen on the ground to trap him or her in. The ones behind will then take advantage of the commotion to pickpocket the person and then pass the wallet on to another clan member before he realizes.
The ‘Good Samaritan’: The victim will first be stained with ink, grease or something else; then another crook points it out, and finally the ‘do-gooder’ offers to clean up the mess while subtly stealing the victim’s wallet.
The hidden hand: Pickpockets thrive in confined spaces such as train and underground carriages during rush hour. A newspaper or a coat act as sufficient camouflage for crafty crooks not wanting their hands to be spotted as they venture into their victim’s bag or pocket.
The hugger: Teen thieves, many pretending to be deaf and dumb, will approach their prey directly, armed only with a clipboard. If the victim signs the alleged petition they’re collecting signatures for, the pickpocket hugs the victim as a means of stealing their belongings. Some however, prefer to start an argument with someone sitting at a bar terrace to then put their clipboard over the victim’s belongings and leave with them in the heat of the moment.
The fake cop: Five or six crooks disguised as policemen will pick on naïve tourists who aren’t familiar with the uniforms or behaviour of Spain’s Civil Guard or National Police forces.